Fools rush in …

July 12th, 2014

Most people misrepresented by the tabloid press have little recourse. Defamation actions are slow, risky and don’t in any case produce a proper retraction. The Press Council and similar bodies are self-defence clubs for the media. And letters to the editor are a waste of time, if they are printed at all.

But if you’re a major celebrity like George Clooney, your response is newsworthy. After the Mail Online published a false claim about his impending marriage, followed by a weaselly apology, Clooney called them out, making it clear that this website (and its associated print version [1]) have the same degree of credibility as the National Inquirer and similar rags.

Of course, anyone who was paying attention already knew that. The Daily Mail runs all kinds of nonsense, from baseless gossip about the famous, to anti-science on all kinds of topics, from antivaxerism to “Frankenfoods” nonsense about GM crops [2], to climate denialism.

My guess is that most readers are aware of this, much like followers of professional wrestling. They enjoy malicious/salacious gossip that panders to their prejudices. If some it is true, so much the better. If not, it’s still entertaining.

Only a fool would actually believe anything printed in this rag. But climate denialism makes fools out of its adherents, who have to believe a nonsense conspiracy theory to make any kind of sense of their position. So, it’s not so surprising that people who would correctly dismiss 90 per cent of what’s published in the Mail credulously reproduce what it prints on climate change.

The leading sucker in this respect is Andrew Bolt (unless he’s in on the joke, too in which case his readers are doubly suckered). But he’s followed by the usual suspects, notably including the Oz, Tim Blair and Miranda Devine.

fn1. Apparently the Mail tries to maintain a multiple branding model in which the print version is supposed to lie only occasionally while the online version lies all the time. I can’t see this working for long.

fn2. As previously discussed, there are plenty of serious issues around GM food. But the kind of nonsense implied by terms like “Frankenfoods” has been thoroughly debunked by now.

  1. Peter Chapman
    July 12th, 2014 at 16:55 | #1

    For once we can root for someone with a lot of money? George did score a few good points, but I suspect the Mail Online will be slow to learn. This has been a bumper media-own-goal week (high points including the Spectator’s jump-the-gun front cover celebrating the defeat of the Carbon Tax as a victory for Bolt, Jones and Abbott). But on a more serious climate-change note, have a look at the good reporting coming through, as exemplified by http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/11/miami-drowning-climate-change-deniers-sea-levels-rising, the story of how the climate deniers are getting their boots wet, even as the continue to aver that “nothing is to be done that might damage the economy”. You can kill off the policy response, but that doesn’t mean you have killed off the problem.

  2. Debbieanne
    July 12th, 2014 at 17:13 | #2

    I suppose Bolt and his friends have plenty of time to enjoy their ill-gotten gains before disaster strikes. It’s a pity these ‘conservatives’ care so little about this civilisation they purport to find so incredibly important. I would like to think my great-grandchildren will live in a reasonably decent world. But with media such as described, I cringe at what my imagination brings to the fore.

  3. Disenfranchised
    July 12th, 2014 at 17:19 | #3

    Meanwhile back on home turf , one can only despair at the previous government’s failure to do something with the Finkelstein Inquiry. The political bias, arrogance and unaccountability of large sections of our media, particularly print and talkback radio, is a cancer eating away our democracy. To those who claim print media is no longer relevant, I say tune in to morning radio or television news programmes and you’ll find newspaper headlines and stories driving the topics of conversation..

  4. Midrash
    July 12th, 2014 at 18:43 | #4

    I haven’t been able to discover the source of JQ’s angst here besides lamentation about the Daily Mail of which I have never been a reader. It seems that it has dumbed down to what might be called the right if sense of direction or orientation is presumed, in much the same way as The Age has dumbed down to the left. (When people stop dying, or just advertising it, The Age won’t have any of its old readership left).
    Still it seems a good place to toss in a question to someone who might shed light on the fashionable Piketty stuff. It is this – to the confidently numerate: how much does demography contribute to inequality?

    If people don’t join the workforce till, say 5 years later than they did 40 years ago, and people at the other end of life are now living and working and saving five years longer what, cet. par., does that do to the Gini index? And how does a declining birthrate (amongst non-immigrants) and postponed fertility affect that measure? Certainly an 80 year old self made 1 per center continuing to accumulate while his children wait to inherit after producing a dozen grandchildren who have neither assets or income has a heroic impact on the Gini index while he lives.

  5. John Quiggin
    July 12th, 2014 at 18:48 | #5

    @Midrash

    “Angst” is the wrong Germanism here. I believe you were looking for “schadenfreude”. I admit, I derive some sardonic amusement from the pathetic, though still dangerous, spectacle that is Australian conservatism, as represented by Bolt and, even more, his readers and apologists.

  6. Ikonoclast
    July 13th, 2014 at 09:05 | #6

    Regarding news and current affairs, anything you pay for is much more likely to be biased than a free source of information. Access only free sources of news and current affairs information on or off the internet. As soon as money is involved, dishonesty and hidden agendas come in much more strongly and almost all of the time.

    If enough people refuse to pay for news and current affairs you break their model. Also, use ad-blockers and avoid all sites, systems and applications which find ways to advertise at you. Avoid Farcebook, Flitter and other applications which profile you and send all your metadata and even data to major corporations and the US security establishment. Probably (and this is something I have not done myself yet), one also needs to move off standard market operating systems and onto FOSS (Free and Open Source Software).

    The interesting thing in all this is that free sources are better than what the market provides. Free news sources are better (more accurate, more timely etc.). FOSS is better than market delivered bloatware by an enormous performance margin. So much for the free market eh? Mostly it delivers expensively priced rubbish.

  7. Ikonoclast
    July 13th, 2014 at 09:18 | #7
  8. Disenfranchised
    July 13th, 2014 at 10:56 | #8

    @ Ikonocloast. Anyone can listen to the likes of Alan Jones and Ray Hadley on radio 2GB free of charge. Because broadcast spectrum used by radio and television is public property and limited, government regulators have a duty to ensure that such broadcasters serve a public interest rather than the narrow personal or political agendas of their owners and commentators. Newspapers are different, because in theory anyone can start their own newspaper. For mastheads like The Australian it matters little how many pay to read it, if the owner has deep enough pockets to bank roll an organ that will reflect their view of the world.

  9. Midrash
    July 13th, 2014 at 11:02 | #9

    @John Quiggin
    Agreed that “Angst” was just a place filler until I came up with the mot juste. Perhaps “dismay” seemed too humbly unpretentious. “Schadenfreude” might have been applicable to what you seemed to be saying about George Clooney’s revenge if I had ever discovered what he did. And I would have given the word its capital S.

    Come to think of it I wonder if German’s capitalisation of common nouns has had a causal relationship in whichever direction with German thinkers’ doleful history of coining abstractions.

    And to you area of expertise JQ, what detail can you add in agreement or contradiction
    of my suggestion that recent demographic change has been distorting the Gini index. Especially in China let me now add? (In China you would have also tens of millions more people introduced into the measurable money economy and maybe living longer because they have access to modern medicine in a way poor peasants don’t but also suffering from urban air pollution and even obesity in a way that peasants don’t. I don’t expect you to add anything on China except perhaps additional speculations…).

  10. J-D
    July 13th, 2014 at 11:41 | #10

    @Midrash
    You’re wrong. This is not a good place to toss in that question.

  11. andrewt
    July 13th, 2014 at 13:37 | #11

    For a bit of amusement scroll down in http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/mwd-233-david-ransom-confronts-gerard-henderson-over-the-abc/story-fnkqo7i5-1226985896901 to see Gerard Henderson fooled by the fake twitter account.
    @DavidStratton9: “A loving tribute to Australia’s finest film critic. Not the real David Stratton.”

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